Page ID: family matters/ CONFESSIONS
Image: sky with clouds
Title: The Task at Hand
Subtitle: Ready and willing
Byline: Debbie Shapiro
Every year, without fail, Elul just seems to jump upon me. Somehow, the hectic weeks of bein hazemanim, with the constant demands of a family longing for vacation, are not an opportune time to begin the groundwork for a month of preparation.
And then, every year, without fail, I find myself sitting at a shiur, and the speaker reminds us that the Day of Judgment will soon be here, and that we had better start taking our life seriously.
And then, every year, without fail, I leave the lecture determined to meet Rosh Hashanah head-on, to prepare myself properly for the Yom Hadin. I resolve to devote more time to prayer and introspection, while filling my evenings with inspirational classes. Isn’t that what the rabbi suggested?
But then, every year, without fail, I fail. When my children were small, I found that the moment I would pick up my Sefer Tehillim to say a few kapitlach, one of the babies would need to be diapered or given a bottle or even an extra cuddle. And if, somehow, there were a few spare minutes during the day, I would grab a quick nap so that I could continue on with a smile. After all, my children needed a calm and happy mother.
Between removing mashed potatoes that had stuck to the wall and washing the endless loads of soiled clothing, there was not much time for davening or shiurim. I was told that eventually these years would pass, and that someday I would have the time to devote myself fully to avodas Hashem — at least during the month of Elul.
Slowly but surely, my children grew older, and the day finally came when I was able to throw away the last bottle.
But there were still things blocking my path. Each year, something else prevented me from accomplishing that which I had set out to do. One year during Elul, one of the children had surgery; another year, one of the children got married. When there were years in which Elul was less hectic, my attempts at quiet, introspective retreats would be interrupted by a neighbor knocking on my door asking for my help, or a married child calling with a minor emergency. Somehow, it seemed as if every time I began to devote myself to the real things in life, some pressing matter popped up that would not allow me to continue.
So, between washing the dishes and running to catch the bus to work, I would snatch a few extra moments for a kapitel Tehillim and spend an additional few seconds davening Shemoneh Esrei. But I certainly didn't manage to engage in the type of deep introspection that Elul seemed to demand.
For this reason, I have always felt a certain affinity with the wagon driver of Berditchov, and every Elul find myself thinking of him. It’s a famous story, and I am sure that you are familiar with it.
One day Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov looked out of his window and noticed a simple wagon driver busily changing the wheel of his wagon while wearing his tallis and tefillin. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak lifted his hands to Hashem and said, “How holy is Your nation, Hashem. Even while in the midst of fixing a wheel, their thoughts are upon You.”
Most probably that wagon driver had woken up at the crack of dawn with the best of intentions. But just as he was about to leave for shul, one of the children began to cry. How could he wake up his poor wife? She was exhausted after spending the entire night rocking a teething toddler.
I am sure that he assumed that as soon as he finished taking care of his child, he would still be able to make it to shul on time, or at least catch a later minyan.
But then one of the other children woke up with a high fever, and the doctor had to be summoned. One thing led to another, until the wagon driver realized that if he really hurried, he could still catch the last minyan.
Just as he was rushing out the door, he noticed that the wheel on his wagon was broken. If he didn’t fix it immediately, he would lose his best customer, and without people to ride in his wagon, his family would be left without food. And besides, he had given his word, and his client was relying on him to take him where he had to go that morning.
Instead of running to shul, the wagon driver heaved a deep sigh and began to repair the wheel. All the while, he was begging Hashem to have mercy upon him, just as he had had mercy upon his fellow Jews.
And so, throughout the month of Elul, as I run from child to neighbor to husband to grandchild, I can only turn to Hashem with the wagon driver’s prayer — and the hope that He will judge me as favorably as Rebbe Levi Yitzchak judged the wagon driver.
I am sure that someday, I will have time to devote myself fully to tefillah and avodas Hashem. And from that rocking chair, I will most probably smile with the wisdom of old age, understanding that at every stage, as long as I am fulfilling the responsibilities that come along with it, I am indeed doing Hashem’s will.
BLURB: Reprinted from Bridging the
Golden Gate by Debbie Shapiro, distributed by Israel Book Shop.